May 15

Although none would say it to his face, everyone knew the boy was spoiled. It was evident from first meeting him with his pale skin that was never in the sun and his perfectly brushed hair and neatly pressed clothes. At twelve he did not know what his father did, only that it made money and required him to be away from home. His nurses and maids were given orders to do exactly what he said, provide him anything he wanted. So they had and he had never known the words "no" or "wait" or "patience."

He was, on his twelfth birthday, flipping through sketches of the cake he would demand be made while he went out shopping with his nurse-maid who no longer was needed to coddle him, but carried things well. He pursed his lips, frowning a little as he turned the page again and the baker shifted uncomfortably behind the counter, waiting.

Neither asked him to hurry as he gave another disappointed sigh and turned the page. "Perhaps they have nothing here to satisfy me."

"Ah, wait young master!" The baker took the discarded book from his hands and gave him another, "Please check these as well, sir! And remember, we can make them any way you please."

Nathaniel sighed and was about to complain that he did not want to spend his birthday looking at sketches of cakes, he wanted to spend it eating the cake, but at that moment the bell over the door rang and something drew his attention to the pair that entered.

The man was older with a full head of gray hair and the beginning of grandfatherly wrinkles. He was dressed nicely in a suit with a carved cane and an air of importance. Beside him was a boy Nathaniel's age but dressed in clothes that marked him as a servant, nice, but not too nice. In his arms were several packages wrapped in white with bows, but it didn't stop Nathaniel from seeing his dark green eyes and auburn hair or the freckles that peeked through the blush that formed as he spotted Nathaniel staring.

The eyes and head dropped as he hurried to keep pace with his master. Before the older gentleman could engage in business with the baker, Nathaniel abandoned his book and approached him.

"Good day, sir," he greeted warmly, his maid stumbling to his side to keep up.

"Greetings, young Rorchester. How do you do?"

"I am well. It's my birthday."

"And twelve this year, aren't you?"

"I am. We are shopping for my gifts now."

"I'm sure you'll find something you like in town."

"I have." His eyes dropped to the boy beside them. "I want your slave."

"Pardon?" the gentleman asked and Nathaniel lifted his eyes defiantly to him.

"I want him. Name your price."

"He's not really for sale."

"That doesn't mean you can't sell him." Nathaniel did not know that he took after his father in his ability to say things that sounded very much like the final word on the matter. The gentleman was aware of who Nathaniel's father was, and the possibly grave results denying the boy's demands could have.

"You are correct. I was just taken off guard. Could we perhaps discuss this another day? My niece is getting married and I will need Allen's help--"

"It's my birthday, I want him today. You can take Marigold in his stead for the day."

"I…" the gentleman reconsidered, seeing the look in Nathaniel's eyes. "Let me just think of a sum, then."

Nathaniel's face lit up, his blue eyes slipping from steel to sunshine. "Excellent. Marigold, take those packages." As soon as she'd done as he required, he took the boy's hand and pulled him away from his previous master and to his side. The boy blushed darker and ducked his head down but did not try to pull his hand away. Not that Nathaniel would have permitted it.

"How is this?" The gentleman handed over a slip of paper with a short contract and a sum listed. Nathaniel nodded and scribbled his signature.

"Marigold can attend at the bank where you can withdraw from my savings. Come, Allen, is it? Come." He pulled him out of the bakery, the other boy following along.


For his birthday they played all his favorite games and he won each one as Allen was shy and quiet and most of all obedient. When Nathaniel tired of games they ate dinner and Allen was seated beside the birthday boy and fed everything Nathaniel ate while he went on and on about anything he could think to tell Allen about life.

After dinner Nathaniel read from his favorite book while curling up with Allen as a cushion. The household staff thought he'd let go of his new toy after this, but instead Nathaniel dragged him into the bath, making him strip and get into the large tub with him to have him soap and scrub his body.

Allen was nearly silent the entire day, never complaining, never arguing, only speaking when asked a question. He touched Nathaniel when asked and never flinched when he was touched. In the bath he was delicate with his duties and Nathaniel watched him the entire time as he worked until he rinsed off, then he commanded Allen to bathe himself.

He was faster and rougher with his own cleaning, but just as thorough. His skin was pink with rubbing when he was done and he waited for the next command with wide green eyes framed by lashes clumped with water. Nathaniel reached out, pushing back hairs from Allen's face with a smile. "We should go to bed."

If these words worried Allen, he didn't let them show. He helped Nathaniel from the tub, drying him down with the same gentle touch he'd used to clean him, if not a little quicker to keep a chill from forming, then bristled the towel down his own body. Once they were dressed in nightclothes, Nathaniel dragged him to the giant bed and pulled him in with him, making him curl up with him to sleep.

May 16 to May 14

Although no one would dare say it aloud, all the staff agreed that Allen improved Nathaniel's disposition. Nathaniel took Allen wherever he went and if he was bored he would follow Allen wherever he went. Because Allen had an actual interest in sitting through lessons, Nathaniel sat through them as well, not paying attention as much as Allen did, but still learning at least.

Nathaniel's father, the master of the house and Nathaniel's only relative, approved of the change but otherwise didn't seem to care about the development. He'd never given much thought to his son, nor to his raising, as long as he wasn't bothered with the details or any trouble. "Keep him happy and keep him away from me" had been their orders when the boy was born. Nathaniel's father didn't see the improvements the new slave brought. He barely saw the new slave at all.

Allen was bright, soft and patient, a perfect match to Nathaniel's tempers and wit. A match was what the household staff saw, too. No one said anything, but they shared looks as the boys aged that year, their touches lingering, their bodies always pressed close together when they were roused in the mornings. Everyone in the house figured it was only a matter of time.

May 15

Although he couldn't give orders, Allen had requested that waking Nathaniel be his job for the birthday morning. The others had agreed since neither master of the house had any immediate plans that Nathaniel had to keep to and they trusted Allen to keep the boy happy.

Nathaniel was still asleep, his hair a tangled mess, his lips parted as he mumbled softly like he did before waking. He didn't move when Allen brushed hairs from his brow, then down, pushing aside the covers to let his hand wander over to Nathaniel's groin. Tentatively he stroked his hand over his penis, shifting closer so that he could kiss Nathaniel's cheek and whisper in his ear. "Nat, it's time to wake up."

With a grumble, Nathaniel pressed his hips against the pressure of Allen's hand and the other boy reacted accordingly, his fingers undoing the pajama bottoms and pushing them aside. Nathaniel's body jerked when flesh touched flesh and Allen smiled, nibbling the ear his lips rested on. "Wake up, my lord, wake up."

Nathaniel mumbled Allen's name while thrusting into the hand that wrapped around his penis. "Mmm. Allen. Mmm. Yes."

"Wake up." Allen whispered hotly in his ear as his hand quickened on the quickly hardening member.

He woke with the abruptness of realizing what was happening to him was not a dream. His surprise quickly faded into pleasure as Allen's hand was unyielding. "Allen. Oh, god." Nathaniel jerked Allen's mouth to his for an awkward first kiss, their teeth knocking and hands fumbling on one another.

Allen's hand never hesitated as they kissed, until Nathaniel pulled away, gasping and crying out in orgasm. His hand slowed, milking out the last shudders of ecstasy until Nathaniel whimpered and Allen released him, adorning him with kisses and tender touches as Nathaniel lie motionless in the bed. "Happy birthday, Nat."

A soft chuckle preceded Nathaniel pulling him to his mouth for more kissing.

"You liked it then?"

Nathaniel nodded, hugging Allen close to him, squirming until their bodies fit together. "It's exactly what I wanted. But you didn't…" he cleared his throat. "You didn't do that just because I wanted it, did you?"

"No, of course not," Allen promised. Nathaniel wanted to believe him. He loved Allen more than anyone he'd ever known. But he just couldn't believe him.

And that would be what ripped them apart.


"Allen, come back here!" Nathaniel laughed as he ran behind him, trying to catch up. Without so much as a glance back, Allen darted in their bedroom, launching himself into the bed and under the covers, burrowing like an animal. Nathaniel panted as he shut his bedroom door, eying the lump in their bed.

He prowled over, taking the time to catch his breath before his hands coursed over the lump, feeling hips and shoulders, the slope of a leg and the shaking of an expanding chest. With a flair he flung off the covers, pouncing on Allen before he could get up and wrapping his long limbs around him like a squid. "Mine!"

Allen laughed, pretending to struggle, but really just rubbing their bodies together as the game of chase and capture gave way to petting and stroking, their clothes being thrown aside as they explored their new pleasure in one another.

"Oh! Nat, you shouldn't!" Allen squeaked as Nathaniel slid his lips over the head of Allen's cock, sucking on the inch or so in his mouth. "You'll make me ah--" he grabbed the sheets as his hips thrust up and Nathaniel seemed to have no qualms with taking more into his mouth.

Nathaniel did things that made Allen gurgle in pleasure and make noises that pleased Nathaniel as he worked on making Allen call out like he had that morning. And when he did it was worth the taste of the mess and it had him hard and ready for when Allen went to tend to him.

Later that night, sweaty and a bit sticky, but overall content as they lie in one another's arms, they whispered sweet nothings and sweet promises, the noises becoming softer and softer as they fell asleep, words of devotion on their lips.

July 6

Nathaniel fumed when he saw Allen, the red blossom on his one cheek not blush but a handprint, large and rough and belonging to the only person who would not obey Nathaniel's demands.

September 21

He tossed and turned alone in bed, not quite asleep, not quite awake. When Allen crawled into bed with him, Nathaniel clung to him without waking, wedging their bodies together. "Where were you?"

"Your father needed me."

Nathaniel's eyes shot open and in the darkness with what little light he had and his fingers, he searched his lover's body, noting each wince and bump. "What did he do to you?"

"It doesn't matter," Allen murmured, turning his back to Nathaniel so they could spoon together, "You can't do anything to stop your father."

Nathaniel wished what Allen said wasn't true, but as he brushes his fingers through the auburn hair, it didn't change the facts.

December 10

Allen was cradled in Nathaniel's arms, crying. Nathaniel kept leaving kisses on his face, trying to calm Allen and the panic in his own chest. His friend and lover refused to say what upset him, but Nathaniel knew it had to do with his father. Only his father would harm Allen.

Only his father would be safe from Nathaniel's wrath. Only his father wouldn't care if Nathaniel was horrid to the staff for the next three days following each of Allen's injuries. But it was his father, and Nathaniel had no idea what to do to stop him.

February 3

Since December, Allen had been less joyous, less vibrant, more contemplative. It was no surprise that he avoided Nathaniel's father, going to the point of refusing to leave their bedroom suite when the older man was around. Nathaniel hated not having Allen by his side, but he'd rather have his lover safe. As long as he knew he was in the room waiting for him at the end of each day.

"Nat," Allen started, then paused, leaning against his shoulder and staring at the fire in the fireplace. "Nat, I know a way you could protect me from him."

"What is it?" he asked, excitedly pulling Allen closer.

"Free me. If you free me, he doesn't own me anymore and he can't hurt me."

"What?" Nathaniel was shocked. "But…" He shook his head after a moment, burying his face in Allen's neck. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"You'll leave me."

"What?" He yanked from Nathaniel's hold enough to turn around and force his face up. "I wouldn't leave you. Why would you think that?"

"Because you won't stay if you don't have to. You'll leave me." He shook his head, his face openly saying that he believed what he said. "I can't lose you."

"I won't leave you. I love you, Nat. I'd never leave you."

"You would. You would." He clenched his arms around Allen, holding him tightly as he curled his body against his. "I can't lose you."

March 17

Allen was losing weight. It hadn't been apparent at first, the change subtle, but it was there.

"Aren't you hungry?" Nathaniel asked, motioning to Allen's barely touched food.

He frowned, shaking his head listlessly. "Not particularly."

Nathaniel narrowed his eyes, looking over him closely, noticing his cheeks looked a bit more hollow and skin paler. "You should try eating some more."

With a nod, Allen took a bite, tried to swallow and gagged on it once before forcing it down. He frowned and poked at his food, "I don't feel very hungry."

Nathaniel pulled him from his seat and into his lap, clamping his arms around his lover. "Are you okay? Do you feel sick?" He petted his cheeks, frowning in worry.

"I'm sure it's nothing," Allen assured. "I'm sure it'll pass."

April 28

It didn't pass.

It got worse. By the end of March the doctor was called, but nothing could be found wrong. The doctor gave a list of high-nutrient foods to feed Allen and medicines to keep him from being ill. Neither did very much, just enough.

Nathaniel crawled into bed with Allen, whose eyes blearily opened at the movement.

"Hush, go back to sleep."

"Mmrrrm," Allen disagreed, forcing his eyes open and his hand to Nathaniel's. "I've been asleep. I want to be awake for you."

"You need your rest." But the argument wasn't really in it. Nathaniel had too few hours with Allen when he was awake. They laid there in silence, small motions of their hands speaking for them. "I love you."

"I love you, Nat."

"You're--" his voice cracked, "you're going to leave me, aren't you?"

"I don't want to."

Nathaniel sniffed.

"But at least your father won't be able to hurt me."

Nathaniel sobbed, "Don't talk like that!"

Allen fell silent, his fingers gently brushing Nathaniel's cheek. "I love you."

He sobbed again.

"I love you, and you're going to have to let me go."

May 14

He sat by the window in the black suit he'd worn to the funeral, staring at nothing. There was nothing for him to see. No Allen laughing, no Allen sighing, no Allen. Servants left food by the table just inside the door, but lunch and dinner both sat there cold and ignored. Those who had risked trying to talk to him were yelled at or ignored.

His fist clenched, although he was not aware of it. All he could see was Allen's face, the faded pale skin, the sad, sad eyes.

I don't want to leave, he'd said. But I just can't do it anymore.

Nathaniel curled in until his body slumped against the wall, wishing he was buried with his beloved.

April 14

"Enough!"

Nathaniel looked up from his bowl of soup, which from its half-empty status meant he'd eaten.

"You have mourned the loss of your slave long enough Nathaniel. I expect sociable behavior when I'm here. And stop wearing black all the time like some widow, you look ridiculous."

No, he wanted to say. No. It's your fault he's dead. He died to get away from you. He swallowed. "He was important to me, father."

His father snorted and rolled his eyes.

"I love him!"

"I know," he chortled. "And perhaps this will teach you what silly things like love will do to you. Now, go up and change."

He opened his mouth to argue, but his father snapped a glare. Nathaniel weakened and quivered, nodding as he stood, "Yes, father."

Two Years

Nathaniel was gay and social when his father saw fit to visit, and he always wore his brightest colors. He would laugh and talk with his father as if he didn't hate the man, as if he didn't feel sick inside each time he saw those cruel eyes. He wished he had the will to kill him, but he knew he could never stand up to his father, and now he had no reason to.

To the staff he was brooding, moody and demanding. He attended lessons regularly but never participated, he ate, but the staff learned to never cook Allen's favorite dishes, or else it would go cold while Nathaniel stared at it. He would lash out at them for little reason and never apologize. They found the best way to calm his tempers was to buy him something green.

His room was full of green. Every jewel he owned was emeralds and peridot; his sheets, his curtains, and the paintings were all weaved with green. His clothes always had one splash of the color whether it was a tie or handkerchief.

The servants knew why, but said nothing. They didn't think it was healthy, his obsession, but they could not mention it to him, nor would his father care. So they tried to keep him happy, tried to keep him from caving in on himself, tried to keep their master happy when he wanted nothing more than to be miserable.

February 13

Sitting alone in the park, reading one of the classics his tutor felt was required reading, he was able to grasp moments of contentment. As long as there was no romance, no love, no soul mates, he could, for a sentence or two, forget the weight that hung in his organs like cancer.

He was being watched, or at least, he felt he wasn't alone. His head jerked up, glancing around quickly, a panicked cry of "Allen?" escaping before he could help himself. He felt that way sometimes, that Allen was still lingering near him. Then he saw the flash of auburn as a young man walked down the sidewalk of town, not far from his bench.

The hair was longer, but the texture the same, as was the breadth of his shoulders and the slim of his hips, if Allen had been allowed to live to grow into his limbs.

Nathaniel leaped to his feet, dropping the book and leaving his bag behind as he dashed the short distance to the walkway, "Allen!"

The man didn't respond, until Nathaniel grabbed his elbow, forcing him to turn, "Allen!"

It was Allen. He nearly cried out in joy, but instead clamped tighter on his arm, one hand raising to brush his cheeks, "Oh, God, Allen. Allen, it is you. I've missed you."

Allen backed away, trying to pull himself from the hold, "Sir, you seem to be mistaking me--"

"Don't go! Don't leave me again!" He threw himself into Allen, wrapping his arms around him, even as the other man struggled.

"Sir, you're confusing me for my brother!"

Nathaniel froze, then jerked away, eyes wide in shock as blood left his face and drained from his body. "You're…not…him?"

Before Allen's brother could talk, a gentle hand touched Nathaniel's shoulder, "Lord Rorchester, isn't it?"

He could barely tear his eyes away from the spitting image of his lover to look at the woman who spoke, "Lady Nightly. Yes."

"Nathaniel, this is Alec, he is Allen's brother."

"How much?"

"Pardon?"

"You own him, don't you? How much to sell him to me?" He stared at Alec's eyes, registering the shock in them but not caring. He needed those eyes to be near him again.

"I'm not interested in selling him."

His eyes flashed in anger as they turned on her, "Any price."

"Nathaniel, I'm not--"

"Anything," he didn't mean for his voice to crack like that. He cleared his throat. "Whatever you want."

She hesitated, studying his face, then looking to Alec. "He isn't Allen."

His eyes slid back to Alec, welling with pain, "Please. Anything."

"I will consider it. Come, Alec."

Nathaniel stared where those green eyes had been, whispering Allen's name on the wind.

February 18

Five children ran around the house while Nathaniel sat in the sitting room with his tea. His hand was trembling in anticipation of seeing Allen—Alec, again. Lady Nightly hadn't given her final decision in the letter he'd received, but had invited him over. Surely if she were to say no she wouldn't have bothered.

"Sorry to keep you," Lady Nightly apologized as she ushered the last child out of the room and closed the door, taking the seat across from him. "My grandchildren are visiting for the weekend, and they always bring surprises to my schedule."

"Yes, of course. Have you considered my offer?" Tact, he knew, was important, but he couldn't wait. He couldn't act rationally in this regard.

"I have. I've looked into things, as well. You were quite close to Allen."

"He was my best friend."

"And your lover, correct?"

Nathaniel unconsciously touched his chest at the pain there, but nodded, "Yes."

"Alec is not Allen. They are brothers, yes, but they are still two different people."

"He looks just like him."

"They're twins, but still not the same person."

"He never mentioned having family…" Nathaniel's face fell, the ache in his chest swelling with a noticeable hunch of his shoulders.

"He may not have known. They were sold young. I looked into Alec's history for him, but Lord Barnue refused to say where Allen had been sold. I didn't know until I heard about the funeral you held for him."

He nodded, not trusting his voice. He didn't want to be reminded of his lover lying dead in the grave. He wanted to see his face alive and smiling.

"Alec will not be able to fill the spot that Allen once held. He will not love you, he will not take to your advances. Having him around will only remind you of what you've lost."

"I never forget what I've lost!" he snapped, then clenched his hand. "I apologize. I just want to see him happy, even if it is on someone else's face. I'll see him happy."

"That we agree to then."

"What?"

Lady Nightly smiled, "I will sell him to you under the stipulation that if he is unhappy or wishes to return to my service he can, with a full refund, of course."

"Yes, anything. Name your price."


The ride back to Rorchester estate was silent. Alec sat stiffly in the seat across from Nathaniel, while the young master stared entranced by Allen's face brought to life. By the end of it, Alec looked uncomfortable and was nearly dashing to get out of the carriage.

"No, wait!" Nathaniel grabbed his wrist, feeling the warmth there, the pulse, the life. His heart fluttered and broke again. "You aren't here to just serve me."

"Pardon, sir?"

"Nat…Nathan, call me Nathan."

"Yes, um, Nathan, sir."

Nathaniel managed to not roll his eyes at that. "You're here to keep me company, not serve me. We will keep one another company, yes?" He smiled, timid and excited all at once. The door opened and before Alec could respond, they were both leaving the carriage and heading inside.

Just as they were heading inside and Nathaniel was reaching to take Alec's hand, the booming voice of Nathaniel's father cut across the peace, "Nathaniel, where have you been! I told you--" he cut off short as he saw Nathaniel standing beside Alec, and his gaze narrowed. "What is going on here?"

"Father, this is Alec, my new personal servant."

"He looks like your old one," he snorted derisively, "Be sure to not starve this one."

Nathaniel tensed, but nodded, "Yes, sir."

The narrowed eyes skimmed over Alec then he turned and walked away. Once he was out of sight, Nathaniel heaved a sigh of relief.

"You killed my brother?" Alec's accusation was sharp with shock.

"No! I…we will discuss this in private," he demanded, then snapped at the nearby servants to make sure the room was ready and have food brought up and tea, that they shouldn't be disturbed, and why were they standing around? Alec followed warily as Nathaniel stormed to his room.

Inside were two queen-size beds, the master bed with a canopy, the curtains pulled away to reveal the lush coverings, and Alec's bed set against the opposite wall, just as richly adorned. Nathaniel ignored this as he passed through to his private room where no servants were permitted and even Alec was slow to follow, although that was more his staring at the beds.

"Please, come here," Nathaniel called and Alec followed, tearing his eyes away from the bed, the largest splash of non-green in the room. The smaller, more private room housed bookshelves and various couches, one of which Nathaniel sat on and Alec sat on the same, a distance from him.

"My brother?"

He drew in a deep breath, staring at his folded hands on his lap. "Allen and I were lovers. Best friends. He was…everything to me." His voice cracked and he cleared his throat, clenching his hands. "My father began hurting him. I…there was nothing I could do to stop it, and Allen gave up." He choked, his body shaking. "He couldn't take it anymore, so he left me."

"He left?" For the first time, Alec's voice was tender.

"He lost his appetite, his will to live. He wouldn't even stay alive for me, no matter how I begged him!" He released a sob, hunching over, rubbing his face to keep the tears from falling.

"Could you not take him away from here?"

"I had obligations I could not leave," he muttered.

"You could have sent him on his own."

"No! He had to stay with me!"

"And bring him to kill himself?"

"I...I couldn't lose him!" he snapped, standing, turning angrily to Alec.

"But you did anyway! Had you sent him off he could have been safe! He could be alive!"

"No! He would have left me! I couldn't lose him. He would have left me and found someone else. I couldn't lose him." By the end he was mumbling, staring down at the floor, aware Alec was staring.

"So we are just property to you. You spoke so fondly of him, I thought perhaps you saw him as an equal."

"I did! I love Allen!"

Alec huffed, leaning back and staring into Nathaniel's eyes. "If you truly loved him, you would have done what was best for him, no matter how it hurt you."

"No! No! You don't understand!" He opened his mouth, as if to explain, then snapped it shut and stormed out of the private room and the bedroom, getting as far away as possible.

February 19

Alec woke with Nathaniel curled against him, clenching his nightgown. Asleep, Nathaniel looked almost cherubic with a peaceful smile and none of the anger he showed when awake. His eyes were rimmed red and the remains of tears streaked his face. He looked so much younger and less hostile like this.

Nathaniel stirred and Alec tensed as the hand holding his shirt slid across his chest, holding his ribs. He wasn't sure when the master of the house had crawled into bed with him—Alec had always been a heavy sleeper—but he'd made himself comfortable in Alec's bed. He was still in the same clothes as he'd worn the day before, minus his shoes, jacket and vest.

With a mumble, Nathaniel's eyes opened, blinking blearily into the dim light of the early morning. He was confused a moment, staring up at Alec, then jerked away, sitting up and looking elsewhere. Alec said nothing as Nathaniel stood up with the grace of a sleep-deprived adolescent and mumbled, "Sorry."

Alec sat up, watching Nathaniel make his way to the private room and slam the door. He got up, pulling on his clothes, then cross the room to gently tap on the door. It opened immediately—Nathaniel never moved from beyond it. His eyes were still cloudy with exhaustion, but he didn't look like he was preparing for sleep.

"Nathan, sir," Alec spoke softly now. "if you plan on sleeping, I can help you change into proper clothing."

He opened his mouth, then closed it again as he nodded, "Yes, that would be good."

Together they stripped him down to not much of anything, then pulled on his nightgown. Alec nearly had to carry him back to his bed, and when Nathaniel collapsed onto the soft mattress, he didn't release Alec's arm.

"Will you lie with me? I know you don't want to, but please, please let me be held by him one last time." Nathaniel looked up to him, eyes wet with pleading and Alec nodded.

Nathaniel situated them so he was tucked against Alec's chest, securely held in his arms. He closed his eyes, almost able to pretend once again that the man holding him was his lover. He sighed as a hand brushed his hair, soothing his trembles as he fell asleep.


Nathaniel fiddled with his spoon in the soup, scooping up a chunk of vegetable then letting it float away again. He cleared his throat. "I'll have a carriage ready to take you back after lunch."

"You're sending me away?"

"I assumed after last night that you…that you would prefer not to stay."

"You are right. You have done nothing to endear me to you but admit to…well you know. You are selfish and a brat, but you know the most about a brother I've never met, so I would like to stay on and learn about him."

Nathaniel's jaw dropped and he stared at Alec until he could work his muscles to do otherwise. "You are not much like your brother." He hesitated, stirring his soup. "Except, I think you both have a kindness in you."

"I think endless kindness is required in dealing with you. And he must have had it in abundance if he loved you, as I know he must have."

"You speak with certainty, considering you never knew him."

"Did you question his love?"

Nathaniel looked away, which was admission enough.

"You shouldn't have. I did not know my brother, but we have the same heart, and it is not easily given up. You were a fool." He returned to his lunch without hesitation.

Nathaniel lowered his head and focused on eating his soup. His cheeks were flushed and he wanted to snap at Alec for speaking to him that way, but he couldn't. He didn't want to scare him off back to Lady Nightly.

"But there must be something he saw in you."

March 5

Alec clamped his hands in the horse's mane and grimaced. "I think I've changed my mind."

"You're doing fine," Nathaniel laughed, gripping Alec's leg in support. "Just sit up straight now."

He did as instructed, not breathing as he released the mane and prayed that the horse wouldn't move. "Okay, this isn't too bad." He took a deep breath. "Go slowly."

"First, hold on to the front of the saddle, just loosely, in case you feel yourself falling off."

"Are you expecting me to?"

Nathaniel laughed again. "No, but I've never seen you so pale before either. And relax your legs."

"Let go!?"

"No," he was still grinning, "just relax. Use this much pressure." He picked up Alec's free hand and gripped it lightly to give him an idea. "See?"

Alec tried to relax the hold on the horse and Nathaniel nodded in approval.

"Ready?"

"Ready."

With a cluck, the old horse walked forward, and Nathaniel hovered by the hack's shoulder to control the horse and ready to grab Alec if it came to it. But there was no cause for concern as Alec wavered, then balanced himself out as his body started going with the motion.

"This isn't so bad."

"You'll be galloping around before you realize it."

March 7

"You want me to what?" Nathaniel inquired politely of Alec. Or at least tried. It came across snippy and offended.

"Wash dishes with me. It's really not that bad—it's only plates and glasses and silverware today! Maggie already did the pots and stuff."

"But why would I want to wash dishes?"

"It's not wanting to. Do you think we like washing dishes and cleaning up after you?"

"I've never made you--"

"The point is," Alec cut him off, "it's a good thing to learn."

"It's beneath me."

Alec grinned, "But you said we were equals and it's not beneath me to wash dishes, so it's not beneath you."

"I lifted you up to my level, I am not lowering myself--"

"You're only going to dry, it's easy."

"That's not the point--"

"I know, the point is that you're," he puffed out his chest and made his voice dramatic, "Lord Nathaniel Phillip Rorchester."

"Stop that," Nathaniel smacked his shoulder lightly, but he was grinning a little. "Fine, I'll try it, this once."

"Good!" He dragged Nathaniel down to the kitchens, where he cleared out everyone else and began preparing the sink for their few dishes, telling him what he was doing. Once the soap and water were ready, he handed Nathaniel a drying towel and they got started.

"I can't believe you're putting your hands in that filthy water."

Alec rolled his eyes as he plunged the dish in again for more scrubbing. "Just don't think about it. Tell me about Allen."

Nathaniel stiffened, clenching the glass he was drying off, then forced himself to relax and continue. "What do you want to know?"

"How did you meet him?"

He laughed at this, softly, fondly. "I was out shopping for a cake for my birthday, and his owner came in with him. I saw him and I had to have him with me. I purchased him right there and he never left my side until…" his hand trembled and he put down the glass. Taking in a deep breath, he was prepared for the follow up question, but was surprised when Alec just said, "Love at first sight, huh?"

"I…I don't know. I was only twelve, but I felt like I knew him already. Heh. I guess that's the dream of childhood."

"You're not that much older, Nathan."

"I know, but--" he hesitated, stalling by putting the glass away, giving him a reprieve from Alec's curious eyes. "No one will ever get along with me as well as Allen did. I had my chance and I ruined it." He snatched the next dish from Alec, then frowned and dried it extra delicately.

"You can't make up for it by being nice to me."

"I know. It's not that. I just…I like seeing him again. You remind me of him every time I see you. At least when you're not talking."

Alec snorted with humor, "Thanks."

"It makes it okay then," he sighed, "just to think he's with me again."

March 14

"'The day began as any other,'" Nathaniel began, his finger tracing beneath the words.

"But it would end like no other before.'" Alec looked up to Nathaniel like an eager puppy to see if he had done well. When he was rewarded with a nod and a smile, Alec turned his focus on the next line. "'My sister had taken the cart into town for some goods…'"

As Alec continued reading, Nathaniel watched him with longing, only glancing to the book when there was a hesitation or Alec asked the meaning of a word. Had he closed his eyes and just listened, he could have imagined it was Allen reading to him. It had been wrong for him to think that Alec looked like Allen. Of course they had the same nose and cheek and eyes. At first glance they would have been indistinguishable.

But Alec's eyes bore a sharpness that Allen's had never neared, and his lips could curl into a smirk that was far too devious for Allen. He also had a small scar, just under his jaw, from an accident when he was a child, a minute mark that set him off completely. Nathaniel ran his finger over the scar, listening to the beautiful hum of Alec's voice.

"Nathan?" Alec had stopped reading and was looking up to him, head tilted curiously.

He jerked back his hand from stroking those high cheeks and hunched in on himself, "Sorry, it's just, hearing you read Allen's favorite book brought back memories."

"Do you want me to stop?"

"No, it's alright." He rolled onto his back, putting some distance between them on the lush carpet.

May 11

Nathaniel woke with a whimper on his tongue. He didn't bother opening his eyes to the gray morning, just reached out for the large pillow he'd taken to sleeping with and dragged it to him. With his arms and legs wrapped around it, he could almost believe he wasn't alone in the giant bed. His next whimper was muffled in the softness as he clung to it, rubbing the hardness from his dream against it, even as he choked out sobs of reality.

Alec laid awake in his own bed, keeping his back to Nathaniel to give him privacy. He had taken notice of Nathaniel's increasingly somber and unpredictable mood, and the staff had warned him about this week of May. He kept his eyes closed, listening as the breathing grew more erratic, then stopped, replaced by a loud sob that broke into choked gasps.

Nathaniel shivered in his bed, his body shaking in horrible sadness that was amplified by how filthy he felt pleasuring himself at the thought of his deceased lover. Biting into the pillow quieted some of his noises, some of the screams that he wanted to rip out of his chest. Noises he wouldn't release.

The bed dipped and Alec's hand touched his back, lightly at first, then rubbing in soothing sweeps. "How would Allen console you?"

"He'd ease my pain with kisses." Nathaniel sniffed, burrowing his face in the pillow.

"I don't think you want me to kiss you. I could sing for you, if you'd like."

There was a long pause before Nathaniel rolled over. His eyes were blood-shot and swollen, his nose and mouth wet with mucus. "You can sing?"

"Like a frog," he promised, his hand brushing the hairs that stuck to Nathaniel's forehead. He lingered there a moment, smiling slightly at the brief peaceful expression on Nathaniel's face, before he chose his song and began.

He sang of a sailor who left his lover to take to the seas, and how the sailor loved the freedom of the salty air. The sailor promised to always return and would sing, "Oh my love, oh my love, I've come aground for you. Where's my love, where's my love, the stars lead me to you."

Alec sang this with a haunting cord and Nathaniel could almost feel the brush of salt air on his cheeks. He could see where this was going and he grabbed at the blankets, hating Alec for telling this story, but unwilling to stop his lovely voice.

When the lover heard the song, he would call back, "I'm here love, I'm here love, I've waited true. I'll come love, I'll come love, I've waited for you." This was joyful, as the lovers united, and Nathaniel wiped a tear from his cheek, even as Alec brushed his forehead.

When Alec began the mournful stanza telling of the ship's demise and the sailor's death, Nathaniel cried aloud until Alec slid down onto the bed and pulled him to his chest to comfort him. His sobs quieted but did not stop as the melody continued, vibrating in Alec's chest where Nathaniel's head was pressed.

The lover, bereft at his lost, secreted away on a ship so he could join his beloved in the dark depths of the sea. When the boat was far from any land, he snuck out in the middle of the night and sang, "I'm here love, I'm here love, I've waited true. I'll come love, I'll come love, I've waited for you" before flinging himself into the water to be swallowed up by the dark abyss.

"Oh god," Nathaniel sobbed, "Stop, please, stop."

"It's okay," Alec's voice sounded rough after the softness of his singing. "It's not the end."

When the sun rose up, the lover awoke and found himself on a beach, his clothes crusty with salt, his head thick with exhaustion and his body stiff. Disheartened at surviving, he sang out, "Oh my love, oh my love, I went to follow you. Where's my love, where's my love, I've nothing left to do."

Behind him there came reply, "I'm here love, I'm here love, I've waited true. I'll come love, I'll come love, I've waited for you." The sailor was there, a glorious sight, and they fell into each other. The sea had brought them together one last time, and they were never separated again.

Alec fell silent and Nathaniel didn't move, the happiness at the end of the song and the warm body beside him working to ease his tempers. Eventually, he wiped at the wet stains on his face and shifted, making himself more comfortable. "Do you think it was death that brought them together?"

"No," Alec answered without hesitation. "It was love."

"Perhaps they both died and met again in the afterlife." Nathaniel pointed out speculatively.

"No." Alec caught up his hand, squeezing it tightly. "The lover wished to die, but the sea knew the sailor was safe and the love between them was so strong that it saved the lover and brought them together again."

"Then if I--"

"No!" He cut off. "Forget the song, Nathan, I'm sorry I sang it to you."

For a moment, Nathaniel thought of arguing. But he was too tired from crying, so instead he picked at Alec's nightshirt. "You sing very well."

"Sometimes I think it's my only good point."

Nathaniel mumbled his disagreement, but did not bother to point any other good qualities out.

May 15

Nathaniel sat at the dinner table with Alec's chair pressed up against his. They ate in silence, but eating was more than Nathaniel had done in previous years. Alec was just pushy and demanding. And bullheaded. "I'm full."

"One more bite and then dessert."

He tensed, his knuckles whitening around his fork, "No dessert."

"It's your birthday--"

"No cake!" he screamed, trembling as Alec rested a hand over the one strangling the fork.

"Just pudding," he assured. "Why not cake? It's your birthday."

"He…" Nathaniel released his fork, staring at the food on his plate with remorse. "We joked that since that first year he was my cake. My sweet pastry. I didn't need cake when he was with me."

"But he's gone, so you should have cake."

"No! No. If I eat cake…"

Alec squeezed the hand he held.

"If I eat cake then it'd be saying he's not here." His free hand clutched his chest as if he were having an attack. "I can't let him think that."

Alec hesitated, considered arguing, then nodded. "Pudding is okay?"

"Yes, I suppose."

With a wave of his hand, the servants appeared, took the dishes and served the pudding, vanishing as quickly as they arrived. It was a sweet mint pudding with bits of chocolate flaked over it, and an exotic yellow fruit on the side with shredded mint over it. Nathaniel stared at it long and hard before looking up at Alec with warmth not previously there. "You chose this?"

"Yes." He half smiled, releasing Nathaniel's hand with a caress. "I hope you enjoy it."


Nathaniel spent the evening telling stories of his life with Allen. His face floated between happy, joyful and pained, but he never stopped talking, having an eager audience in Alec. For his part, Alec would ask questions, encourage him to keep sharing, smiling when he did. They were lounging on the couch, comfortable with their proximity. Nathaniel was comforted by the press of a warm body while talking about his lost love and Alec was patient with him as he heaved two years' worth of grieving.

Their laughter was interrupted later in the evening when Nathaniel's father came in, cutting his way from the front door toward the dining room. "Exactly what I mean," he snapped at Nathaniel before continuing on his way. Silence hung in the air until the footsteps were gone.

"What did that mean?"

"Nothing." Nathaniel frowned, sitting up and pushing Alec away from him. But Alec wasn't one to let Nathaniel get his way. He scooted over so they were sitting beside one another again.

"What did he say to you?"

"Nothing."

Alec sighed, "Fine, but you're helping me clean our room tomorrow--"

"I can't."

"Oh? And why not? You said--"

"He said I shouldn't demean myself by doing servant work. That I'm being stupid with you like I was with Allen." He paused in his rush to sigh. "He's taking me to start working with him tomorrow."

"Oh."

Nathaniel nodded somberly.

"Well, I guess it's good to learn his trade. You'll take over the business when he's done, right?"

"I suppose." He hesitated again. "I wanted to go to university."

"Did you tell him that?"

"He said he wouldn't waste his money on it and I should get such fanciful ideas out of my head."

"Well, I'm sure we can think of something."

"No. No, he's right. I didn't even like school until Allen made me go. He loved learning, so I'd go too, just to see his face. He'd glow. I told him we'd go to university together. I told him," he hunched over, "I told him I'd always keep him with me."

"Then if you want to go to university, you should. To keep the promise to him."

"But it wouldn't be with him. It doesn't matter." Nathaniel stood. "I'm going to work with my father tomorrow, I should go to sleep. Good night."

Alec watched him trudge off trying to keep his shoulders straight as if he headed to the gallows.

May 16

His father had his hands in many pots, but shipping and exports were his main moneymakers. It was the job that lent him freedom and respect and it was the job that earned the riches that afforded a son who hadn't learned limits until his fourteenth birthday. Now, shortly after his sixteenth, he was spending more time with a man he'd barely seen than ever before, being yelled at, ordered around, and supposedly taught the trade.

At three his father sent him home to continue his study with his tutors. When Alec didn't join him in his history lesson and Nathaniel inquired as to why, the tutor informed him that Alec had said he was working in the kitchen. Nathaniel pushed for more information, uncertain why Alec, who loved the lessons as much as his brother had, would go to the kitchens instead.

The tutor hesitantly shared that Alec had said he didn't belong in the lessons anymore. Instead of storming out to demand an answer of his wayward friend, he sat through the lesson until the late dinner was called. As if seeing him all day hadn't been enough, Nathaniel found his father at the dinner table with Alec. With Alec serving his dinner. He was about to throw a fit and demand Alec sit at the table with them when Alec glanced up and over and the bruised skin on his neck became apparent.

Nathaniel swallowed down his pride and whatever else threatened to relieve itself of him and sat down. Dinner was a stony affair with neither Rorchester speaking as they ate through their courses. When he was finished, Nathaniel excused himself and left, taking a path that would look like he was headed to his room, but instead went to the kitchen.

He hadn't even a foot in the door when Maggie stopped him with a gentle touch, "He's up in your room waiting for you, sir."

With a nod of thanks, he turned and ran up stairs, dashing through the bedroom and into the private room, where Alec stood pensively, staring at a portrait of Allen.

"Oh, Allen, god, what did he do to you Alec?" He crossed the room, pulling aside the high collar to reveal the bruises left by a chokehold the night before.

"So you do still think of him when you see me," Alec replied, voice gravelly.

"No! No, it was just the picture made me think of him."

"We're identical, Nathan, you think of him every time you look at me."

"Not anymore. Yes, in the beginning I saw him in your eyes and your smile and you. I wanted him back so badly. I still do. But he's gone." His voice cracked and his finger skimmed lightly over the bruises on Alec's neck. "And I have a chance to stop him from doing the same thing again. You should return to Lady Nightly."

Alec stiffened and gave a terse jerk of his head, "Of course." He headed back to the bedroom and began fussing with his bed, although it was already pristinely made. "So much easier to send away someone you don't care about, isn't it? If only you'd had the thought to do this with Allen. But no, he meant too much to you."

Nathaniel was surprised to see him crying as he tug viciously on the covers. He stepped toward Alec, but hesitated, lingering in the doorway. "That's not it. I don't want him hurting you Alec. Can't I make right what I screwed up before?"

"A second chance?" Alec laughed, cold and dry. "I'm not Allen! Remember that! I'm not Allen! I'm leaving while I can before I get sent to my grave to for--" He growled. "I hope you find happiness!" As angry as his last words were as he stormed out, there was a touch of sincerity in them that left Nathaniel reeling.

A crash and a startled scream broke him from his dumbness and he rushed out to see what was the matter. Downstairs, in the hall, a vase lay shattered over the floor and Nathaniel emerged in time to see his father box Alec hard enough that he dropped to the ground. "You stupid boy! Do you have any idea how much this was worth?"

Alec clutched at his head on the ground, dazed and confused as Nathaniel's father prepared to kick a response out of him. Nathaniel hissed, leaping down the final steps and sprinting the distance while screaming, "Stop!"

Rorchester senior didn't kick, just slammed the heel of his shoe into Alec's shoulder, pressing the boy's face into the tile floor and shards of vase. "Nathaniel, you may show favoritism to your slave, but I will not show such respect when he breaks valuable--"

"He's not my slave! He's a free man!" Nathaniel shoved his father's leg off Alec and helped him stand, holding him under his arms to balance him.

"Don't play with me boy, I saw the receipt of sale."

"I freed him two weeks ago, ask Samuel, he has the paperwork and filed the forms for me."

His father considered continuing the argument, but with a snort turned and returned to the dining hall. As soon as he was gone, Alec sagged his weight against Nathaniel. "You shouldn't have lied; he'll be mad at you when he finds out." He winced, then winced when that irritated the cuts on his face.

Nathaniel wanted to collapse in a heap on the floor. His legs were shaking from the confrontation with his father and Alec's weight and the exhaustion of the day. Instead he started carrying Alec toward the stairs. "I didn't lie." Before either could say more or scale the steps, Clare and Humphrey appeared.

"Allow me sir," Humphrey slid Alec's weight easily onto his own shoulders and any struggle Nathaniel was going to give fled at the thought that he'd probably have dropped Alec down the stairs.

"I'm not an invalid, I can make it up." Alec argued, but didn't help his case by swaying into Humphrey's support.

"Clare, prepare the bathroom so we can flush these cuts and bandage the larger ones," Humphrey instructed as he began guiding Alec up the steps. Clare bustled ahead to do as she was told. Nathaniel lingered behind long enough to summon Richard and set him to cleaning the vase mess, then trudged behind Alec and Humphrey, his shoulders hunched in defeat.

He wanted to help, but knowing he'd just be in the way, he collapsed against the outside wall and sat down, prepared to wait.

May 17

Nathaniel awoke in his own bed, the world foggy and indistinct beyond the warm body beside him. He smiled, blinking until his vision cleared enough to see the cuts on Alec's face and the bruise below his ear that expanded the discoloration already present. Before he could reach to touch it, green eyes flashed open as if they'd never been asleep.

"You fell asleep before you explained yourself."

"I was tired."

Alec sat up, carefully rubbing his eyes and half his face, "Did you really free me?"

He watched the curve of his back and the way his fingers were gentle when prodding his skin. His auburn hair was a little shaggy and hid his face from view. "Yes," Nathaniel sighed.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you'd leave me."

"Will your father be mad?"

Nathaniel winced at the change of topic, sitting up to look at the timepiece. Still time before he was expected for work. "I don't know. I suppose I'll find out when I arrive at the office."

"Do you think he'll be angry if I stay?"

"Would you?"

"Would I be angry?" Alec asked.

"No!" Nathaniel laughed. "No, would you stay?"

"I'd like to, but I don't want to cause discord with your father."

He took a deep breath. "I'll see how today goes. Just keep hidden from him for now and we'll see."

Alec nodded with a faint smile, nothing to hurt his sliced cheek. "You know, beneath being a spoiled brat, you're really rather lovely."

Turning away, Nathaniel hid his flushed cheeks and pounding heart, "You'll come to lessons today, won't you?"

"Yes," Alec spoke softly as he stood, "I'll come."


He stepped into the main office prepared to be verbally dismembered and shamed. Instead his father started talking about business affairs and didn't stop until it was time for Nathaniel to go to lessons. He was no more vicious than he had been the previous day and he actually took time to explain one or two things that he was doing.

He was already in a state of shock when he went to lessons, only to find Alec absent. No one had seen him since a brief breakfast that morning, and Nathaniel was sure to ask everyone about it while he should have been having his lessons and by the time he reached his room he was on the verge of tears—whether anger or hurt, he didn't know. Alec had left, even after promising he would stay! He slammed open the door to his private room while wiping the wet from his eyes.

An auburn head popped up, drowsy green eyes blinking through his bangs. "Maphin?" he mumbled.

"Alec." He sighed in relief, nearly giddy with it.

"Nathan!" Alec jumped up, rushing over and grabbing his shoulders, looking him over with wide eyes. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

"No, no I'm fine."

His thumb brushed off the tears, "You're crying."

He looked down and wiped his own face. "I thought you'd left."

Alec laughed in relief, pulling him into a warm hug. "I wouldn't go without telling you!"

"You didn't show up to lessons," Nathaniel pointed out. "What was I to think?"

"I'm sorry, Nathan, I am. I just was tired from last night and our fight and I was so worried over what your father would say that I couldn't concentrate and I just meant to lie down a minute." He stopped, skipping back a few words. "What did your father say?"

"Nothing." He pulled away, moving to sit on the couch. "He acted like nothing had happened the night before. He didn't say a word about it. I was tempted to mention something, but I don't want to disrupt if he's ignoring it."

Alec nodded, sitting beside him. "That seems best for now."

Nathaniel took his hand, squeezing the warmth until it soaked into his skin. "Thank you for staying."

"I wanted to stay. And Humphrey says he has work I can do around the house, so it works out."

"What? Work? Why would you--"

"I'm a free man, I need to earn my keep now."

"But you're my…I mean…I've asked you to stay here, you can't think--"

He laughed, "Don't think of it as work, think of it as something for me to do while you're stuck with your father. I'd still like to attend lessons."

"Yes, of course you must. I suppose it's only fair you work while I do." He smiled and released the tense sigh he'd been holding in. "We should have dinner up here tonight, I don't want to risk my father."

"Yes," Alec smiled, "dinner sounds nice."

May 18 – November 8

Life fell into a routine. Nathaniel would work for his father, go to lessons with Alec, then they would spend their evenings laughing over dinner and long into the night until both would succumb to sleep and wake early again the next day.

Nathaniel's father treated him much like every other employee at work, which Nathaniel found he preferred. On the rare occasions that he planned to come home to eat, he would make casual comment about it and Nathaniel and Alec would make themselves scarce by taking their meal in the room.

While it wasn't ideal, it wasn't really that much different from before, when the senior Rorchester had ignored Alec and barely spoke to his son. Now at least they could laugh gaily in privacy without disturbing the older man, nor being reprimanded with his stern looks.

The servants, who gossiped like most coworkers, did not say what their eyes shared. How close the boys had gotten recently, how like Nathaniel and Allen they seemed to be, and wasn't that just a little terrible that Alec was being used to fill the shoes of his dead brother? Only Maggie, who had the most contact with Alec, and Humphrey, who knew the young Rorchester better than he knew himself even when he had been a spoiled child, only they kept their business to themselves.

November 9

Nathan held Alec's hand as he dragged him from the house, laughing as the cool autumn night washed over them. "It's your birthday, Alec, we have to do something special."

"Oh, I'd much rather stay in!"

"Don't worry," he casually slung his arm over Alec's shoulder, the chill reddening his cheeks as he laughed, "I'm not taking you to the opera or anything like that. But they've set up the park for the festival and you should see it." His eyes sparkled mischievously.

"Oh alright." Alec couldn't help but grin as he playfully shoved Nathan off him. "Since you asked so nicely."

"Asked?" Nathan stopped, pressing his hand to his chest and looking disturbed, "Lord Nathaniel Phillip Rorchester doesn't ask! I demand it! You must enjoy your birthday!"

A peal of laughter startled the people passing by. Alec grabbed his friend's elbow, shaking his head, still chuckling, "Come them, my lord, we must hurry else your delicate noble constitution shall be set ill by the cold."

"No, no," Nathan allowed himself to be guided along, laughing as much as Alec was, "I will forbid it from happening."

They spent the way to the park joking and laughing and generally disturbing the peace of the evening. By the time they reached the park they had settled, giving them both opportunity to enjoy the decorations that had been prepared. Nathan had been to the festivals in prior year, but each time the town strove to outdo itself. This was Alec's first time, as Lady Nightly wasn't one for festivals and his time with Nathan had been spent in somber recognition of his brother's birthday, during which Nathan would be sullen and unwilling to take part in the festivities.

But this year he took it all in with wide eyes and exclamations of excitement until they'd walked the whole park and finally collapsed on a bench by the pond that reflected the carefully strung lanterns. Alec leaned back, so warm inside and smiling at the beautiful scene stretched before them and Nathan beside him.

Nathan shifted, but Alec did not look away from the pond until the hand holding his tightened. Looking over, he was met with Nathan's mouth covering his in a kiss, and then another, and then abruptly pulling away.

"Oh god! I'm sorry Alec!" Nathan was flushed red and trembling, but Alec just smiled.

"For what?"

"For kissing you! I know you don't…I mean you're not…"

"Nathan…"

"Yes?" he nearly squeaked.

"Shut up." He leaned over and kissed him back.

Time has no meaning for lovers, and so they spent an eternity kissing, cold fingers touching wool coats and warm cheeks. Each time they tried to stop, they would linger a millimeter from one another and then lean in to taste if the flavor had changed, if the skin was as soft as they recalled, if it was so delightful. It always was.

"Alec..." he whispered against those lips as if it was the first time he spoke the name.

"You do see me." Alec smiled, blinking open his eyes to share that smile with Nathan.

"Yes. Now I do. And you're so handsome." He brushed Alec's cheek with his soft leather glove. "I'm so sorry it took me so long."

He tilted his head to the touch. "You're forgiven. This time."


Humphrey was there to take their outer garments when they returned and he made no comment of their secretive smiles or covert glances. He expected them to head up the stairs, for it was late and it was obvious they'd been kissing, but instead they just shared a possessive look and headed into the sitting room, where they would be given privacy, but not that much privacy.

Nathan lay down, pulling Alec atop him, wrapping his arms around Alec's waist and letting the other boy adjust until they were both settled comfortably. Tucked together, Alec shifted only to kiss Nathan's jaw, "Why now?"

"I figured it would be a good birthday present?"

He laughed softly. "You already bought me a title."

"But that was selfishness on my part I—well anyway it was selfishness."

"So you gain nothing from this?" Alec grinned up at him.

"Nothing at all." He was silent a moment, running his fingers down Alec's back. "I didn't mean to do it. To kiss you. You looked so happy and I just wanted to taste a bit of it." He blushed at his own words.

"And how did it taste?"

He met their lips in a kiss, long, lingering and almost sleepy. "Just keeps getting better." They fell into silence but for the sound of skin on skin and clothing grating. They were a little breathless when they pull apart, their bodies moving against one another in youthful need. "Wa—wait," Nathan murmured, holding Alec still above him. "Not here. Just lie with me a little longer."

Alec grunted a little, but settled back down, resting his head against Nathan's shoulder.

"Thank you." He stroked his hand along the lower back that was exposed from Alec's untucked shirt.

"Mmm." Alec agreed. He shifted, nestling his lips not far from Nathan's neck. "So why is buying me a title selfish?"

"Well, did you want a title?"

"Not particularly. It didn't seem like something to waste money on."

"I wanted to take you to the party next week."

"There's a party next week?"

"Yes, and they would have treated you like a servant if you didn't have a title. Now…" he took a deep breath, tightening his arms. "Will you go with me? As my partner?"

Alec propped himself up so he could look down at Nathan's nervous face, his hand pressed to the chest below him. "Your heart is pounding."

"That's not an answer." He frowned in worry. Alec laughed and kissed the point of his frown.

"Of course I'll go with you." He smiled bright as the morning sun. "So then, we're partners?"

Nathan nodded, his own grin shy. "Yes. Oh god Alec, yes!" He crushed him in a hug, the beginnings of laughter muffled against Alec's neck. Alec let him get his laughter out, only pulling away when Nathan mumbled something he couldn't understand.

"What?"

"I asked if you wanted to go to bed."

"Oh." Alec took in the blush and impish grin on Nathan's face. "OH." A touch of pink flooded his own cheeks. "Well, I…uh…" He laughed, taking in a focusing breath. "Yes, is what I meant, but, I've never gone to bed with someone before. I mean, with Lady Nightly there wasn't anyone I could have…and then I spend every minute with you here…and so…yeah."

"I'm not…I didn't mean. GAH." He grinned, pulling Alec down to kiss him. "I want you beside me in bed. What happens when we're there is between us. I know some things. But we'll discover together, okay?"

Alec nodded and stood, pulling Nathan up with him. Their hands slid together as they made their way upstairs, both secretly glad that the staff made themselves scarce, as their arousal was apparent in their pants. Once in their room, with the door securely locked, they shed out of their clothing to their underthings, throwing glances to each other as they both slid under the sheets of Nathan's bed.

Despite their timorousness, they slid near together, hands finding hold on hips and shoulders as their lips found contact warm and wet. Shuddering, they pulled closer until their bodies came together with soft gasps.

"Oh--" Alec moaned, pulling himself up and over Nathan and pressing their groins until it ached. Nathan lifted his hips when Alec backed off the pressure and that sent them into a new assortment of noises as they slid into a struggling rhythm. Unable to gasp around kisses anymore, Alec dropped his mouth to Nathan's neck, kissing, then biting his collarbone gently, but hard enough to provoke a squeak and a jerky tremble as he stained his briefs.

Nathan twitched unpleasantly when Alec rocked against him again, so Alec rolled off, pushing down his under pants to take hold of himself, but Nathan's hand reached there first. It was surprisingly slick when it wrapped around him, only tugging a few times before Alec's hips arched up and he bit back a cry and spilled himself. Even as he sagged back into the bed they reached for one another, burrowing together as they discarded their dirty clothing, leaving nothing between them.

November 10

It was a rare Sunday that Nathaniel's father attended brunch, so the boys were startled to find him at the table when they wandered in. Both cheeks turned red at their state: nightgown and robes on, tousled hair, and linked hands, plus the distinct smell of sex. Not how they wanted the senior Rorchester to find them.

"Father," Nathan gathered his wits first, "We hadn't realized we'd have the pleasure of your company, if you give us a moment, we'll go make ourselves proper."

"Don't bother." He growled, gesturing to their seats, "Food will be served shortly."

They shared a glance, but did as they were told, sitting stiffly in their chairs while waiting for brunch, neither talking in the presence of Rorchester. The pancakes and sausages, when they arrived, were liberally doused in syrup, but they waited until Rorchester took his first bite.

Once they both had food in their mouths, Nathaniel's father sighed, "You're set on him then?"

Nathan nearly choked and Alec had to slap his back a few times before he regained his composure. "Pardon?"

"Samuel informed me that you've purchased a bronze title for the boy," his eyes flickered in Alec's direction. "And have accepted invitation to Lady Warmanger's party with a guest."

"Yes, he's agreed to be my partner."

"You're announcing it at the party?"

"Unless you'd prefer me to wait."

He brushed that off with a wave of his hand, "Makes no difference to me." Turning his attention to Alec he asked, "You currently work with Humphrey?"

"Yessir."

"You've taken lessons with Nathaniel?"

"Yessir."

"You are amendable to other work?"

"Uh, yes, sir?"

"Tomorrow you'll join Nathaniel at the office. If I find you decent, you will continue on in his role and I will consider permitting him to attend university."

"Really?" Nathan blurted.

"Yes. If he is competent and I have confidence that he can handle taking over the company, then I see no reason why he cannot do so while you attend university."

"But why the change of mind? Not that I'm complaining!"

"Do you think I live to make your life miserable?" He snorted. "I'll be passing on my work to my son, whether directly or through his…lover. Don't be so dramatic." He turned his attention back to his food and Alec and Nathan shared a glance, both agreeing that the conversation was finished.

The rest of brunch was a silent affair and as soon as Rorchester picked up his newspaper, Alec and Nathan excused themselves to prepare for the day. In all reality they would do very little preparing and a lot of lounging and exploring of the human body, but that wasn't the proper thing to say. Once in the room Nathan broke out in laughter.

"Did you hear that? He said I could go to university!"

Alec laughed as well, "I know, I was there."

"You're alright with that?" He clamped down on Alec's hands. "Do you want to go to work there? I don't want to force you--"

Alec shut him up with a kiss, nuzzling his nose across his cheek when he was done. "It can't be less fun than the duties I've had. I daresay it'll be interesting to talk to companies all over the world."

"You might think differently when you've seen it. Promise you'll tell me if you change your mind."

With a grin, Alec slipped his arms around Nathan. "I promise." He kissed him. "But really, when have I not spoken my mind?"


"Alec." Nathan had meant to growl in warning, but it came out a whine of need.

"You're so beautiful." His warm breath rushed over the heated skin, feeling almost cool. His loins twitched as Alec's tongue flicked out, tasting the base of his cock before inhaling deeply, nearly burying his face in the heady scent. "Beautiful."

"Oh. God. Alec. Please." His hips couldn't lift, Alec's more muscular arm holding him in place as a curious tongue slicked along the base. More whimpering noises escaped Nathan, but it didn't hurry Alec's lips moving up his length.

"I think," he paused, tasting the fluid that seeped out, then smiling, "I think this is the best birthday I've had." He dropped his head, his mouth taking Nathan's cock in one heated rush that made Nathan cry out and spill his seed. Alec choked a little before swallowing, only a flicker of distaste crossing his brow as he did.

Nathan was stumbling out an apology, his cheeks red with embarrassment when Alec lunged up, kissing him wetly. "I did that to you." He sounded extremely proud.

"Yes, you did." He meant to reciprocate, but Alec would have none of it. He was very intent on kissing Nathan until he was hard again, which wasn't very long as Alec stroked his still very hard member against him, lips never faltering as their bodies shifted.

"Put your legs together." Alec's command was a soft whisper in Nathan's ear and he didn't hesitate to obey. When he had, Alec's prick, smeared with their combined fluids, sank between the flesh of his thighs as his mouth sucked on an already hard nipple.

Nathan clenched his thighs and thrust up against him. "Ah!" He needed pressure and contact and Alec's tight stomach spasmed against him. "Alec." Shades of green swam around him as he tilted his head back and Alec's body stuttered in its rhythm before picking up again more quickly. Their gasps, cries, and whispers tangled together until they came and collapsed, spent and wonderful. And together.

November 16

They stood outside, Alec fiddling with his cuffs while Nathan straightened the house pin that he'd given Alec to wear. On his own throat was pinned an emerald, since Alec had no house pin to offer.

"Are you ready?"

Nathan laughed, "I was about to ask you. Nervous?"

"Nathan, I've served tea to some of these people at Lady Nightly's. Of course I'm nervous."

"It's behind you now. You're not just Alec; you're Lord Alexander Rorchester."

He laughed nervously, "Of course, Lord Nathaniel Phillip Rorchester."

With a grin, Nathan offered his arm, "Shall we?"

"I am not a woman." Rolling his eyes, Alec took the offered gloved hand and let it drop between them. "But we shall."

They did not release their hold on one another as they entered, at least not until the servants took their outer vestments. But they took up their hands again as they stepped into the main hall where everyone was gathered. Nathan, although he rarely went out, was used to these functions. Alec had only experienced them from the other side and had found them grandiose then.

"Lord Nathaniel Phillip Rorchester, escorting Lord Alexander Rorchester," the servant announced, loud enough for people to hear, but not disturb the general festivities. Several people nearby paused in conversation, eyes soaking in the two handsome gentlemen. It made Alec a bit nervous, but Nathan was grinning proudly as he released Alec's hand to slip his arm around his waist.

"Alec?" Lady Nightly emerged from a crowd of people and when she saw them, she gasped in surprise. "Alec, that is you!"

Because Nathan refused to move his arm, Alec could only tip his head in a respectful bow. "Yes, Lady Nightly. A pleasure to see you again."

She pulled him into a hug, yanking him from Nathan's grip to do so. "It's good to see you," she said aloud. Whispering, she added, "Is everything alright?"

When he managed to disengage from the hug, he returned to Nathan's side, casually sliding his arm around his shoulders in answer to Lady Nightly's question. "I've been well. Nathan gave me a title for my birthday so we could attend tonight."

"And his last name?" she asked, curiously.

Beside him, Nathan blushed. Alec just smiled. Nathan was thinking of when the conversation about last names happened. Alec was too, but it took more than that to make him blush. "Yes, we're partners now. I've begun working at his father's company in the hopes of taking over when he retires. How are you? Still surrounded by the flock of grandchildren?"

The conversation flowed on into the evening. Some recognized Alec from when he worked with Lady Nightly, but no one made comment out of it. Although it was impossible not to recognize the similar appearances between Alec and Nathan's old sidekick, it was just as impossible to not see the differences. Allen had complemented Nathan's fury and robustness, but Alec equaled it. He equaled Nathan as they spoke to other guests and in his etiquette at the table. He was comfortable dancing and was intelligent about current events. He was one half of a two-headed hammer.


The carriage rocked as Nathan straddled Alec, the kiss knocking both their top hats off. Alec caught his before it flew out the window, his other hand lifting to knot itself in Nathan's hair.

Nathan sighed as he broke the kiss, rocking back to rest on Alec's knees. "I wanted to do that all night."

"Not proper in nice society?"

He laughed, brushing auburn strands behind Alec's ear. "To say the least." Nathan brushed his nose against Alec's cheek, a tender smile tugging at his lips. "Come on, I have a surprise inside."

"A surprise?" Alec let himself be pulled up and out of the carriage once it arrived at the manor. "You're going to spoil me."

Nathan laughed, pulling him closer and wrapping his arm around his waist, fingers sneaking around the jacket, vest, and shirt to brush against skin. His hungry eyes spoke of how much he wanted to spoil him. "It's not just for you. Come on, you'll see."

They headed through the deserted house, everyone else off in bed except the carriage driver who was tending to the horse. In the kitchen they took the lantern they carried and lit two more until a soft glow filled the room, or at least half of it. Sitting on the wooden table where the servants took their meals was a small cake.

It was only six inches across, but lovingly frosted with white cream and decorated with mint leaves and a swirl of jam across the top.

"We didn't have cake for your birthday, so I thought maybe we could have cake now." His hand clamped tightly on Alec's. "I helped Maggie make it. Or," he shared a knowing smile with Alec, "I got in the way as she made it."

"Thank you." He pulled Nathan to the table, sitting down far enough back so he could settle Nathan on the seat between his legs. He wrapped his arms around him, nestling his chin on his shoulder and reached over to take up the fork that waited for them. Nathan squirmed closer, pressing against Alec until their bodies pressed together perfect with a soft hiss from Alec. "Comfortable?"

"Very." Nathan chuckled, twisting his head around to kiss Alec's cheek. "Take the first bite."

Alec did as he was told, humming appreciatively as it melted across his tongue, a mix of sugar, fruit, mint and chocolate. "Delicious." He licked his lips, cleaning off the remnants of sugary cream before kissing the point of Nathan's jaw. "Thank you."

He melted even farther into the embrace, allowing Alec to get another forkful of cake and carefully guide it to Nathan's parted lips. Nathan moaned as the flavors saturated his taste buds and Alec's hand rubbed down his stomach in teasing up and down strokes. "Uhhh." He leaned his head back after swallowing, his eyes fluttering as Alec's hand slipped down.

Without stopping, Alec's other hand swept in to grab another bite of cake, enjoying the rush of sugar in his mouth as Nathan pressed his head back and his hips forward, his breathing getting heavy. With a grin, he swiped a fingerful of the cream and pressed the dirty finger to Nathan's mouth. He sucked it in with another moan and Alec stopped rubbing his crotch to grab his cock through his pants.

A whimper escaped as Nathan's hips spasmed and he sucked harder on the single digit. Alec kissed his neck, sliding the finger in and out of his mouth to the same pace that he stroked Nathan through his pants. He enjoyed watching Nathan squirm beneath his efforts, not to mention the contact that said body made with his own hard member.

He worked open Nathan's pants with one hand, shifting through the layers to feel the hot skin that awaited him. When he pulled him out, Nathan gasped and trembled in pleasure and Alec took the opportunity to free his hand from Nathan's mouth and trail the slick finger down from head to base and back again.

"Alec." He pleaded. "Alec. God. Alec. Please. Need. You."

"How?" He asked, needing to hear how badly.

"In me. Please. I want you in me. No one's ever," he gasped as Alec's hand tightened around his cock in surprise. "In me." As if to stress his point, he rocked back against Alec, rutting him against his butt.

"Are you sure?" Alec asked, his voice trembling with sudden need as Nathan continued pressing back and forth. When he nodded it was more than enough permission and he would have laid him out right there if not both their considerations for the servants and their own comfort. Nathan tucked himself away and Alec grabbed the cake to take it back to their room.

The baked good barely made it onto a table before their hands were full of one another, stripping away the plentiful layers of clothing to caress skin with fingers and mouths and bodies until they collapsed onto the mattress, sinking into it and each other. Nathan, already driven so far, came with a few sure strokes of Alec's hand. He gasped in surprise at himself, and Alec chuckled, kissing him as he carefully avoided the mess on his stomach.

Nathan reached to tend to him, but Alec stopped him, bringing his fingers up to kiss the tips then set them aside, his own swiping through the mess on his stomach. "You want me inside you, don't you?"

"Yes," he murmured breathlessly, spreading his legs to him and hardening at the thought, although a hint of trepidation was faint in his voice. Alec kissed his chest as he pressed one messy finger into Nathan who inhaled sharply and tightened around the intrusion.

"Relax," he hummed against his chest and the muscles obeyed as he worked on loosening, swiping more off his stomach with each additional finger until Nathan was squirming and grabbing at him, trying to push the fingers deeper inside himself. He gave a little groan when Alec pulled away, grabbing their bottle of oil from the bedside table and spilling it liberally over himself. He was quick in preparing himself, neither patient for their bodies to come together.

But he didn't rush the next step. Nothing compared to pushing into Nathan, watching his face twitch with pleasure, then discomfort, and then reprieve when he had sunk all the way in. Alec gently stroked his sides, kissing him and interrupting his shallow breaths. "Are you okay?"

Nathan nodded as the tension slowly began to seep from his body. "Didn't think it'd feel like this."

"Good?"

"Strange. Not bad. The pain's leaving." His body relaxed even more as the muscles adjusted to the intrusion and Alec stroked the withered prick between them. "That's nice."

"Are you ready?" Alec asked as his fingers engorged the cock with blood again. Nathan wiggled experimentally and gasped at the sudden sensation. He nodded, pulling his legs around Alec's hips and forcing himself to relax as Alec pulled out.

They started slowly, Alec watching his lover for signs of discomfort as he moved in and out of the warm, slick hole. But the more they moved together, the less tension built in Nathan's body until he was lifting his hips up, pressing Alec deeper to reach some itch that became apparent when it was rubbed because he jolted and immediately thrust his hips to meet that angle again.

Their movements became urgent then, and whispered endearments became moans and grunts and other pleasant noises as they rocked together to completion. Alec spent himself first, catching his weight on his arms when all he wanted to do was collapse. Instead he slid in and out even more easily than before, the slow rhythm making Nathan gasp beneath him, on the edge of climax. A single stroke along his prick sent him over and he tightened around Alec as he spilled across his chest again.

They stuck together as they shifted, Alec pulling out and Nathan moaning at the loss. They rolled onto their sides, tucking into each other and pulling the sheets around their heated skin as the cool of the air haunted around them. Nestled together their lips whispered secrets that weren't secret at all about loving and loyalty and never leaving the other behind.